Mother Nature’s might is revealing itself yet again in the West Virginia flooding of three weeks ago. Also on display is the power of the helping hand and the human spirit – with the customers, employees and business partners of Fruth Pharmacy figuring significantly in the relief effort.
NACDS.org talked with Lynne Fruth, president of Fruth Pharmacy and a member of the NACDS Board of Directors, and with several team members, about the flood and its aftermath.
Fruth describes the flash flooding of June 23, 2016, as only a true West Virginian can. She tells of the tragic loss, and near misses, of people she knows well, and she compares the flooding to other infamous days in the state’s history.
“It reminds me of the Buffalo Creek flood,” she said, referring to a tragic dam burst in 1972. “People heard the water coming, ran to the highest point and watched the water come in.”
Given the number of people in the extended pharmacy family who know Fruth, the question on the minds of many is how the people and property of the 29-store chain fared.
“We were really fortunate,” she said. “There was disaster all around us. Our new store took on minimal water, but we were really completely spared as a chain. We had no loss of employees or their immediate family’s homes. Having said that, within a few miles of our stores, we had loss of life, children swept away, tremendous loss. It is very devastating.”
She recounted one story of a neighbor who was sad to stand on the site of her family’s dream home that had been ruined, but whose emotions were focused more intently on those across the street who were swept away along with their home in the flood waters – leaving them among those who truly lost everything.
“That’s perspective,” Fruth said.
For West Virginians, the stories are many and cut deep – and so, too, are the motivations to help make a difference for those who got by with a near miss.
“HELPING CUSTOMERS KNOW THEY’RE MAKING A DIFFERENCE”
When Fruth talks about her company’s involvement in the relief effort, she puts everything in terms of the company’s customers, employees and business partners – and the community organizations that are taking the lead in various initiatives.
“What we’re doing is pretty small by comparison, but it is important because it helps customers know they are part of something that is making a difference in helping people deal with the flood,” she said.
It is unclear who’s to say whether the company’s efforts are large are small, but – by one measure – they already have required two trailers to move needed supplies from Fruth’s Point Pleasant warehouse to affected areas. A third trailer will roll at the end of this week, or early next week.
The following are some of the highlights of the highly collaborative response:
- Fruth Pharmacy created a universal product code that customers are using to make point-of-sale monetary donations. Over $5,500 – and counting – has been collected and used to purchase and deliver needed supplies. The company used social media and in-store displays to communicate the opportunities for customers to participate in the effort.
- Business partner Stover Trucking volunteered its services to transport donated supplies.
- Business partner Heinrich Paper Supply donated another $4,000 worth of clean-up supplies.
- The company has collected over-the-counter products, first-aid kits and hand sanitizer, for use by first responders and volunteers to pick up and distribute to flood victims.
- Business partner Genetco – with the leadership of executives Grant Butler and Carol Reinbold – donated thousands of dollars’ worth of antibiotics and nebulizers for veterinary care, which will be used by the Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association to treat displaced and injured pets.
Regarding pet care, Fruth notes a learning that may be helpful to other NACDS members should they find themselves – God forbid – in a similar situation.
“So many pets were displaced or lost during the flooding,” she explained. “To lots of people, pets are part of their family. For these animals that have been rescued we felt there was a great need in assisting in their care. Watching a family that has lost everything being reunited with a pet is heartwarming. Reuniting with a pet brings back hope and normalcy to a family. That is a big deal during this time. Fruth Pharmacy felt it was important to contribute to these efforts of the Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association.”
“THEY JUMPED IN AND DID IT”
A review of Fruth Pharmacy’s reaction to the flooding provides as many lessons about leadership as it does about philanthropy and disaster response. Fruth describes the initiative demonstrated by members of her entire team, with specific mentions of Amy Nelson, gift category manager; Barbara Taylor, OTC category manager; and Tim Weber, vice president of pharmacy.
In fact, Fruth emphasizes that by the time decisions were being made about the company’s community relief actions, she was fulfilling another important responsibility: participating in her daughter’s out-of-town wedding.
She describes a “black wall of weather headed from Parkersburg” as one of her last sights before traveling.
“I was being respectful of my daughter, and giving her the attention she deserved on her day. Our team at Fruth Pharmacy didn’t have to call me to make these decisions. They jumped in and did it. They did the right thing.”
“A THOUSAND-YEAR FLOOD”
Fruth articulates in vivid detail the sentiments that support the “West Virginia Strong” mantra that has emerged from the flood waters.
“People in West Virginia are tight-knit,” she explained. “Basically, you’re talking about living someplace where everybody knows each other. Somebody would say to a neighbor who lost a home, ‘I have an extra room, why don’t you stay for a few weeks.’”
She also describes what the ground under the feet of West Virginians – and what the loss of a home– means to them.
“They are living on property that has been in their family a long time. They are West Virginia natives and that ground is very important. It’s a deeper connection,” she explained. “People in West Virginia are also very resilient.”
Fruth wants people to know that opportunities to help displaced West Virginians will be ongoing, and resilience will be required for a long time.
“When things happen, you get a big push in the first two-to-three weeks,” she said. “People think everything is good now, but this was a thousand-year flood. It will take months and months and months to restore some sort of order in these communities.”
“WHAT IF SHE HADN’T LOOKED BACK?”
Among the many stories that Fruth is able to recount from the flooding, she tells of a neighbor who was driving her truck on the day of the flood and came to a point in the road covered by several inches of water. Having been educated on the dangers of driving through what the untrained eye may consider an insignificant amount, she put her truck in reverse, looked in the rearview mirror to back up and change course, and saw a wall of water rushing toward her. She left her truck, ran up a bank of land, and witnessed her truck being washed away.
“What if she hadn’t looked back?” Fruth asked, clearly knowing the answer.
To be sure, the story of this tragic flooding includes miracles that resulted from the need to look backward, and many more miracles driven by the determination to look forward. That determination in many ways defines the people of Fruth Pharmacy, and the people of West Virginia whom they serve.
The NACDS Flickr account includes a photo album, with photos courtesy of Fruth Pharmacy.